How to Make Stress Work For You This Holiday Season
How to Make Stress Work For You
This Holiday Season
As we enter into the final month of 2018 - there is a lot to look forward to in December as the end of the year holidays can be a time of extraordinary celebration, joy, reflection, and community and family connection. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of significant stress and anxiety for many people. It’s not unusual for December to be one of the busiest months of the year at the AG Thrive offices. After I did a little review of some research articles pertaining to stress in families throughout the month of December - I discovered that between 60-70% of families describe their stress levels as “very” elevated during the holiday season. Some common holiday stressors include financial demands of the season, negotiating the interpersonal dynamics and needs of family, and maintaining personal health habits and good self-care practices.
Since we at AG Thrive are dedicated to providing families with tools, strategies, and support that empowers them to not stay stuck in unfulfilling or frustrating patterns or behaviors - we decided to try and do something about this December stress phenomenon - and provide you with a framework, perspective shift, and/or practical strategies that will help you to change your relationship with stress - and therefore make December the glorious month of celebration and joy that it should be.
We believe that this very well could be the best present that you could give yourself - and your loved ones - this holiday season!
Could stress actually be healthy for you??
This may seem like an intentionally provocative question - but it is a very important question for you to answer as research clearly demonstrates that how you answer this question determines how significantly stress impacts you. In Kelly McGonigal’s amazing book, “The Upside of Stress,” she mentions a study that evaluated a large population of adults over nearly a 10 year period - that assessed the possible correlation between the participants stress levels - and their belief about how stress would impact them (did they believe stress was harmful - or - did they believe that stress wasn’t harmful and may even have some health benefits?).
The shocking conclusion that these researchers came to - was that stress alone isn’t what harms or kills people - but rather - it is the combination of stress and the belief that it is harmful that appears to be harmful/deadly (participants with high stress who didn’t believe that stress was harmful - were actually the least at risk sample). The researchers estimated that over the 8 years they conducted the study, 182,000 Americans may have died prematurely because they believed that stress was harming their health.
McGonigal goes on to point out there is emerging science that illuminates the potentially healthy aspects of stress (that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful - and it even helps you to learn and grow). This new science also demonstrates that transforming your beliefs about stress can make you healthier and happier - and that how you think about your stress can affect a wide range of life outcomes (from your cardiovascular health to your ability to find meaning in your life). It turns out that the best way to “manage” stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it - but instead it’s to rethink and embrace the positive benefits of stress.
The "How do I apply this" section: In order to help you facilitate such a mindset transformation - I would encourage you to identify your “Stress Mindset” - to evaluate your current beliefs pertaining to stress. If you are like me and have/had a “Stress is Harmful” mindset (I am a recovering “Stress is Harmful” mindsetter - with occasional relapses still occurring) - then I would strongly encourage you to be open to watching McGonigal’s phenomenal TedTalk on this subject - or - you could always schedule a consultation with us - and we can provide you with a more personalized action plan.
As for a few suggestions that McGonigal mentions - mixed in with some coaching interventions we use at AG Thrive:
“Cultivating a Mindset of Meaning” concept
If you have read some of my previous blogs (or watched any of my YouTube videos) - you may have noticed that I am a huge fan and believer in the importance of identifying your core values. This is relevant to this intervention - as McGonigal cites studies where participants journaled about their most important values - and then connected their values to their daily activities. The research authors found that when participants did this - there was a litany of positive health and quality of life benefits - as it transformed the stressful experiences they encountered from hassles they had to endure - into opportunities to express their values. Doing this throughout the holiday season could be an incredible way to create more joyful and meaningful family holiday experiences!
Change the way you talk about stressful events
\When you are getting ready to perform an important task or have a significant interaction with someone you care about - instead of focusing on how stressed or anxious you may feel - you should acknowledge and state that you are feeling really excited. After all, stress comes as a result of something that’s important to you being at stake (whether it’s perceived or real) - as you don’t stress about things that you don’t care about. Therefore, it’s wise to channel your stress through a filter of excitement - and not one of fear or dread.
The Challenge Response
This is a great way to transform the fight or flight response that can be frequently triggered in a stress response - and turn it into an opportunity to “bring it on” and rise to the challenge. This type of response to stress tends to energize you - and it changes your perspective on some of the physical responses that get activated during stress (like elevated heart rate, increased adrenaline, increased fuel to your muscles and brain) into a state that can actually be quite enjoyable.
Consider the context you are experiencing stress in
Unresolved stress has a way of making us feel like something is wrong - or that we are inadequate to deal with the situation. When you feel stress in your marriage, work, family, etc., it can be tempting to think that these areas of life are broken or unfixable - but this almost never is the case. Try to remember that it’s normal to have some uncomfortable moments throughout the incredible journey that is marriage, parenting, creating a fulfilling career, etc., - and that these moments of stress and discomfort are really just opportunities to grow in meaningful areas. With the right mindset, focus, effort, and resources - stress and discomfort often lead to our most significant breakthroughs, successes, and growth in life. In other words - December is an extraordinary month for growth!!
The “just breathe” technique!
Okay - this one is pretty self-explanatory and simple - but remarkably effective. When we start to experience a stress reaction - our body begins to initiate some physiological responses that are healthy for when we might need to fight or flee from a bear - but perhaps not as necessary when we need to host a Christmas party! A very simple way to offset this response - is to recognize when you are beginning to feel stressed - and slow your breathing down (using the 5-2-7 method - breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 2, breathing out for 7 seconds). At the beginning of our stress response - we get tight and hold our breath as if we are preparing for danger - but, if we can be mindful to breathe through this moment - it can really transform the way that you respond to the stressful event. When you practice doing this technique regularly - it can actually have a kind of preventative effect on future stress - as it helps you to make more effective decisions - thereby eliminating the stress that comes from making decisions when you are stressed out!
The Stress Dam
This is more a way to visualize your stress - with the water levels of a dam representing your current level of life stress - and the dam wall being your container for stress. When the water levels rise - we need to take action by practicing good self-care (usually when we get stressed - we stop doing our fundamental self-care practices - which exacerbates our stress condition), adding coping skill techniques, connecting with our resources (internal and external), delegating action, or accessing outside intervention. If we fail to take these types of action steps - the dam gets beyond full capacity - and you can create a condition whereby every little or big stress sets you up for an emotional breakdown. So, the two ways to manage this stress dam effectively are:
Fortify the dam wall by practicing good self-care, adding coping skills, accessing internal and external resources, etc.
Lower the water/stress levels by resolving your resolvable stressors, prioritizing what you can get done, delegating tasks, and/or letting go of and accepting the unresolvable stressors.
If we can help you to have a more remarkable holiday season - please contact us so we can schedule a consultation - and empower you to Grow the Holiday Season you Want and Deserve!!